The Critical God
: Revisiting Reinhold Niebuhr‟s existential turn in the Realist Tradition

  • Luis Guilherme Dos Santos Marques Pedro

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This thesis is inscribed in the field of international political theory, even though it also seeks to contribute to an understanding of IPT as subsidiary to other areas such as theology, ontology and ethics. It consists of a study of the existential theology and ethical ontology – or ‘ontological ethics’ – which lies at the basis of Reinhold Niebuhr‘s theory of international politics. It seeks to spell out the ways in which Niebuhrian realism was not only profoundly theological, but also constituted a powerful existentialist reconfiguration of the Christian tradition going back to Saint Augustine. This thesis argues that Niebuhr‘s religious thought, as much as his international political theory, cannot dispense with a detailed account of his reception of major continental thinkers, usually couched as existentialist philosophers – namely Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and their 20th century followers. I demonstrate how Niebuhr‘s ontological investigations, which constituted the indispensable ground of his political theology and IR theory, sought to import the existentialist insights of these continental thinkers into the overall framework of his Augustinianism. Kierkegaard‘s insights about love and anxiety, as much as Nietzsche‘s genealogical enquiries into the history of ethics, the discourse of survival and preservation, and the practices of power, were a key ingredient in Niebuhr‘s international political theory. I argue that through them Niebuhr was able to recast Augustine‘s realist formulation of the ‘impossible possibility’ of a world community, as well as his critique of political idolatry and of modern forms of pride and of paganism, in influential ways which still speak to us today. In turn, Niebuhr‘s theological and realist-existentialist critique of Wilsonian idealism – with its problematization of the sublimation of modern subjectivity and the belief in the endless rational capacities of the human self – allows for a limited margin of dialogue between Niebuhrian realism and those contemporary strands of critical IR theory which have always defined themselves in opposition to the realist tradition.
Dyddiad Dyfarnu2012
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  • Prifysgol Aberystwyth
GoruchwyliwrHoward Williams (Goruchwylydd) & Andrew Linklater (Goruchwylydd)

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